After 6 Decades As A Staple, 'Jet' Magazine Ends Print Run

It's the end of an era, as Johnson Publishing Co. announced plans to cease printing Jet. The magazine, which started some 63 years ago, was long a staple for many African-Americans.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. An era in magazine history is closing. Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co., or JPC, says "Jet" magazine is going digital. Some 700,000 subscribers will no longer see a print edition. It's with the exception of one special print issue a year. "Jet" has been a weekly staple in many African American communities for more than six decades.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates, from our Code Switch team, has this report.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: "Jet" magazine was a fixture in black America. As most black baby boomers can tell you, if you went to a black doctor, lawyer or hairdresser, "Jet" was going to be in the waiting room, just as it was on the coffee tables in many black homes. In the 1980s, George Curry covered then-presidential candidate Jesse Jackson for the Chicago Tribune.

GEORGE CURRY: I remember Jesse Jackson saying, when I was covering his 1984 campaign, someone would say, was it in New York Times? He said, I don't care about that. Was it in "Jet"? If it's not in "Jet," it didn't happen.

BATES: Curry now heads the news service of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the consortium of the country's black newspapers. He says "Jet" was always an amalgam of black pop culture and news. The magazine often had stars like Lena Horne and Angela Bassett on its covers, and regularly chronicled black society and communities around the country.

But "Jet" really made its bones during the civil rights era. In 1955, it tenaciously covered the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till by two segregationists while Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi. George Curry:

CURRY: There is no event in my life that has been more transforming than the murder of Emmett Till. And "Jet" captured it like nobody else. When you saw those pictures, "Jet" brought it home.

BATES: Publisher John H. Johnson made the decision not only to cover the trial in print, but to photograph pictures of Till's grotesquely mutilated body when it was returned to his mother in Chicago. Thousands of mourners stood for hours to pay their respect before his open casket. At Mamie Till Bradley's request, "Jet" published the photos. George Curry remembers them vividly, even now.

CURRY: You saw those photographs, the lines outside of the funeral home in Chicago. "Jet" made you see it. It was a unique publication.

BATES: But in recent years, the unique publication was getting stiff competition from instantly accessible news sources, and it's suffered from an aging readership. This morning, Linda Johnson Rice, the late founder's daughter, announced "Jet" will cease print publication at the end of June. We're not saying goodbye to "Jet," Johnson Rice promised in a statement; we are embracing the future as my father did in 195,1 and taking it to the next level.

Starting in July, "Jet" will be an online magazine only. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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